Nigel Holloway: Over an hour of new Mayhem material? Well, it is with the two bonus tracks at any rate.
NH: You never quite know what you’re going to get with Mayhem, as they’re never ones to stand still for too long. However, on Daemon, it seems that all that touring the band have done for the 25th anniversary of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas has rubbed off on them, as these new songs have more in common with that era of Mayhem than many others.
Angelo Sasso: Actually, I think the fact that this is one of their first albums that you can truly say sounds like one of their previous ones is a bit of a bummer to me. Mayhem are very enigmatic, coming and going at irregular intervals and always releasing something wholly unlike anything they’d done before. Obviously, I don’t expect them to top the avant-garde batshittery of Grand Declaration of War any time soon, but Daemon kinda sounds like Esoteric Warfare with some hints of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.
NH: I agree it’s their least differentiated album so far and carries more than just a hint of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, I’d say. It’s certainly no clone, however, and you can hear how the band’s sound and abilities have progressed over the years. Daemon may hark back to the earlier days of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and Wolf’s Lair Abyss in its general second wave style, but it doesn’t limit itself to this. To my ears, elements of Chimera’s sharp, technical edge can be heard, for example, as can aspects of Ordo ad Chaos‘ grim atmosphere and A Grand Declaration of War‘s experimental streak, (albeit tamed in comparison).
AS: Eh, I suppose that’s true, my brain may just be playing tricks on me because I think EW was their most “normal” sounding album to date. And Daemon is similarly pretty normal as well, though that’s probably because DMDS isn’t novel anymore and it’s been ripped off literally thousands of times in the last twenty-five years.
NH: Indeed. Although, overall, an enjoyable album, there are two problems with Daemon from my perspective. The first is that it’s a tad overlong for my tastes, although I wouldn’t really know what song(s) to cull if I had to. The second is the production; there’s something about it that almost puts a barrier in front of the music for me. I’m not sure, but I suspect it’s mainly to do with the drum sound more than anything else. The music is largely high quality, and I like it, but these two factors (primarily the second one), prevent me from really engaging with it as much as I could.
AS: I think the production is fine, actually. Nothing particularly special, but it works for the style. You could argue it’s too clean, I guess, but Mayhem has always had a pretty clear sound I’d say (barring Ordo, but the muddy production hurt that one so if anything I’d say that further solidifies my point). I do agree it’s too long, though, but then again, I’ve always preferred shorter albums unless there’s some exceptional writing or narrative involved. My main problem is what I already said. Maybe I shouldn’t have led with my strongest point, but I do think the overarching feel of the album is just kinda underwhelming. On principle, in concept, this feels to me like Mayhem treading ground they’ve already tread, and that’s something they’ve never really done before, nor is it what I want out of Mayhem personally.
AS: Though I suppose my personal fee-fees don’t matter necessarily (though that’s exactly what a review is supposed to discuss, in a way). What do you think of the music itself?
NH: It’s kind of hard for me to decide how I feel about this album, even after listening to it many times. When I focus in on any particular song or even parts of songs, I really like it, such as the scything guitars of opener “The Dying False King,” or the crawling malignancy of “Daemon Spawn.” Tracks like “Agenda Ignis” and “Bad Blood” really let you feel the bass, and it feels good, whereas “Everlasting Dying Flame” probably channels De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas the most effectively. However, when I consider the album as a whole, I fell…a bit underwhelmed, I suppose, to use your word; I think it’s apt. Also, to echo you, it feels like treading water for a band that has always moved forward. Having said all of that, however, all of this certainly doesn’t make for a bad record, but it doesn’t make for one of their best either. In some ways, I feel I’m judging the band too harshly, as ultimately, this is still going to be better than the bulk of the ostensibly similar black metal releases from this year. What are your thoughts on this?
AS: Yeeeeah, I’m gonna have to give a “hard disagree” on that one. I think if this didn’t have the Mayhem logo on it, it’d be more widely viewed as what it is: a decent, if unremarkable, black metal album. Metalheads as a body tend to give legacy bands a lot of slack. Judas Priest became their own cover band last year, but it was basically ubiquitous on “best of” lists because Priest is a classic band, and the album wasn’t a steaming pile. I foresee something similar to Mayhem here, because this is basically them being their own cover band, and metalheads love that. I think this is more frustrating here because Mayhem isn’t like Motorhead or Cannibal Corpse. Those bands stick to their guns and tighten up with each successive album without too many wild experiments. Mayhem historically has experimented with their sound a whole bunch, so instead of a band staying true to what they do best, Daemon feels more like an unchallenging regression.
NH: I mostly don’t disagree, although I do still enjoy aspects of the work. I rate it higher than you seem to and taken as a whole, it still has many merits. It’s a disappointment, however, when I think of what could have been if they had pushed themselves and their style more, as they have done in the past. I can’t help but like it a lot more than I don’t, although that does feel like damning with faint praise in a way.
AS: And I don’t think this is destined to be better than most similar albums this year, not one bit. Off the top of my head, it already pales in comparison to Mgla, Kostnateni, Serpent Column, Deathspell Omega (the real) Batushka, and hell even other legacy bands like Darkthrone and Blut aus Nord. Granted, they’re all a bit more experimental, but this kinda loops back to what I said before about brand recognition helping Mayhem out here. If this wasn’t Mayhem and was some random Slovakian band named Goatcunt Massacre or something, it’d be a footnote in the grand scheme of the year.
NH: Again, I don’t disagree. When I referenced the bulk of similar bands, maybe I was being too literal, as there are soooo many black metal bands out there! Ultimately, although I like Daemon, I prefer some of the more obscure black metal releases that have surfaced this year – something like Ordo Naturalis by Salvaticus or Volume III by Obsidian Tongue being two great examples, (neither of which, admittedly, really sound like Mayhem).
AS: I don’t hate this album or anything, I think it’s fine, has great atmosphere, and that “Bad Blood” and “Falsified and Hated” are A+ tunes, but as a whole package, what exactly is this offering me that I couldn’t already get from any halfway decent 2nd wave worship act?
AS: Ahhh dammit, you got me there! Atilla isn’t quite as enigmatic here as he was in the 90s or on Sunn O))) material, but there’s no denying that he’s still very good at what he does and his presence is felt wherever he appears. Mayhem is still loaded with individual talent. Hellhammer is a legend for a reason (though he doesn’t show off his speed here as much as he did on Esoteric Warfare), and they have a larger than normal bass presence for a black metal band thanks to Necrobutcher, and that doesn’t change here. I think Blasphemer is better than Teloch and Ghul, but they’re quite competent regardless.
NH: Yeah, the bass guitar is one of my favorite things about this album. Okay, so overall, I think this is a strong release, albeit a safe one that’s overly long and has a less than ideal production. A bit of a mouthful for a summary, but there we are!
AS: Yeah, I guess my issue is less with the individual components of the band themselves because all of the parts necessary to create a great album are here; I just don’t think it’s assembled all that spectacularly. Maybe it’s pedantic of me to be so disappointed in an album that is, by all respects, perfectly fine, but I feel like Mayhem has set a high standard for themselves that they just haven’t really been reaching lately.
NH: Fair enough.
AS: Are there any more miscellaneous things you’d like to touch on before we wrap this up?
NH: Nope, all good here.
AS: Alrighty, so… final grades?
AS: I think I’m gonna say C-. If I were working with a 1-10 scale, it’d probably be closer to a 4, but with the letter grades in mind, I can’t say in good faith that this is bad or below average. It’s fine, it’s perfectly serviceable, but it neither jumps out at me nor does it pull me in. It’s a very passive, unengaging album, and despite the fact that I like a few tracks plenty (“Falsified and Hated” is the standout), I still don’t see myself revisiting this a whole lot, if at all.
NH: I’m going to go with a C+. It would have been a B if it wasn’t for the length and the offputting, (to me at least), production.